It could only be us, a couple of non festival aware Brits, who would book that “relaxing” hammock-swinging, foot-lolling, end of October weekend in Key West.
This was to be our much looked forward to, quiet break by the sea. Yes, I suppose we did notice that Orlando was smothered in fake cobwebs and had been glowing orange with plastic pumpkins for the last month, but Halloween, to us, is of no importance.
So it was only 24 hours before leaving that we read that our trip coincided with the Island’s wild and wilful 30th celebration of the outrageous eye-popping “Fantasy Fest”
Billed as a rival to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Fantasy Fest is an adult party/ fancy dress celebration of the Conch Republic and of course of Halloween.
This years theme was “Villains Vampires and Vixens” and they were all there. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea to see the intimate areas of the over 50’s sprayed and brushed with gaudy body paint, but you would have to be a miserable soul not to have found this funny and liberating.
Thighs and hips, escaping at last from tight jeans, sagged and dimpled. Breasts jiggled and swayed irrepressibly, in and out of bikini tops. Bums and bellies, large and very large challenged to the limit both the imagination and resources of the body artists.
Crowds gathered and lenses jostled to see nubile young ladies being sprayed. Lurid paint seeped its way into crevices and tucks that are usually kept respectably out of sight.
Hairless and hairy men threw beads to the audience.
There were men in frocks, and men out of frocks.
Fat men dressed as fairies, thin beautiful girls painted with stars, fat beautiful girls in pirate costumes.
Elegant almost naked ladies who belonged in university libraries sipped bloody cocktails on the verandas of Duval alongside their equally elegant husbands, with only a couple of thongs and jock straps between them.
We watched the crowd from a balcony for a while, heard a voice floating up from below “Hey there sweet tits” ..and saw 30 acknowledging heads turn… both men and women.
As the afternoon heat increased and temperatures rose we slipped into Sloppy Joes for a frozen Margarita.
It is the first and probably only time, until perhaps my geriatric days, that I will ever ask a respectable elderly lady sitting next to me if I will see her with her clothes off later. “Why sure honey!!! ” she shrilled.. “ I’ve gotten myself painted!! I sure can’t do THIS everyday in Virginia.” … not in Lincolnshire either I can tell you!
Poignant scenes were there too… a lanky “fly” weaving home alone in a darkening street, his antennae sagging, glittering gauzy wings drooping.
The ample breasted girl from the Adult Entertainment shop, sitting disconsolately on her verandah, neglected and alone, her obvious charms struggling to be freed from the tight white tee shirt but sadly eclipsed by the many, more glittering and readily available ones on offer on the street.
The very tiny old man weighted down with leather straps and chains resting his frail bedecked body on a low wall, bony elbows on bony knees watching glumly as the cruise ship on the dock spilled its gleeful cargo of nudists.
Of course, lest we all forget ourselves and surrender completely to sin and debauchery there was the occasional sober man of God dragging a cross along the road reminding us of the consequences of our actions.
A derelict wild eyed drunk lurched across the road in pursuit of one of them, but, on seeing the good man disappear into a nearby churchyard, turned back muttering the best line of the weekend.. “ Well d.a.a.a.a.mn !!!, he’s safe… he made it back to holy ground, agin! “
So our quiet weekend was not quite what we expected, but we ate wonderful seafood and delicious Cuban rice and beans, drank dark bitter buchis, indulged in Key Lime Pie, heard some good old nostalgic music, giggled and laughed our way up and down Duval, sailed out to see the sunset, cycled everywhere, and generally had a good time, all in the company of 80 thousand happy people who were doing very much the same.
Two winged happy creatures from Fantasy Fest, photos by Chris.